The rise of UX web design has many marketers considering how their website visitors "use" a website and has really shaped the function of websites in recent years. However, with more than 19% of the US population having a disability, considerations for those users' experience on our websites should also be top of mind. There's also a law in place to protect their rights for access and usability of websites.
We have experience with public entities, like universities and charter schools, on the forefront of this website ADA compliance transition. This article is based on what we’ve learned about ADA compliance through those countless web designs, and is intended to help other website owners consider steps needed to comply with ADA regulations and usability.
What is the ADA?
The ADA is an acronym for The “Americans with Disabilities Act,” and was developed by The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 1990. It’s a civil rights act that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The purpose of ADA compliance is to ensure that all “places of public accommodation” are accessible to those with disabilities. The scope of this law is broken into the following 5 titles.
- Title I (Employment)
- Title II (State and Local Government)
- Title III (Public Accommodations)
- Title IV (Telecommunications)
- Title V (Miscellaneous Provisions)
Who Needs to Comply With ADA Regulations?
Title III (Public Accommodations) mandates that all businesses that are open to the public are legally required to remove any access barriers that would hinder a disabled person’s access to that business. For example, if someone were wheelchair bound and wanted to enter the post office, the U.S. Postal Office would have to install ramps to make their establishment accessible to everyone.
Since this law was enacted in 1990, and the internet was not nearly as developed or integral to everyday life as it is today, it was not taken into consideration and the law was intended to apply only to literal barriers like stairs.
What is ADA Compliance For Websites?
By 2010, The DOJ issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making to amend the language in Titles II & III so that they would also apply to intangible barriers such as website accessibility. The announcement stated that the DOJ intends to establish requirements for sites on the world wide web so that they are accessible to individuals with disabilities. For example, some visitors to your website might be deaf, and they would require closed captioning for any videos that are on you website. Another example would be if someone with epilepsy were to visit your site, they would be sensitive to the layout of colors and flashes that might be present on a webpage, so those elements have standard use guidelines as well.
However, no official requirements have been established yet as to what websites will need to comply with ADA regulations. For this reason, people who have been sued by the ADA for non compliance have seen different courts rule in different ways. For now, the DOJ simply points people towards The World Wide Web Consortium’s “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)” as the guidelines they should follow to be ADA compliant.
What Are The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?
The WCAG are a set of accessibility standards that were created to help guide web developers in making their work more accessible to those with disabilities. There are a total of 12 guidelines that fall under 4 categories. The guidelines are incredibly long and detailed so we have paraphrased them to make them more digestible. However, if you would like to see the full details we have hyperlinked each of the following categories to their original documents. The categories are:
“Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”
This category helps web developers ensure that the media they put on a webpage is usable by all. It provides recommendations on how to present content in alternative forms. For example, adding closed captioning to videos for visitor that are deaf. It also recommends how to use contrast in images and text to ensure it is legible to all viewers.
Guideline 1.1 Text Alternatives: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
Guideline 1.2 Time-based Media: Provide alternatives for time-based media.
Guideline 1.3 Adaptable: Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
Guideline 1.4 Distinguishable: Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
“User interface components and navigation must be operable.”
This section provides guidelines to ensure that the functionality of your website doesn’t create problems for users.
Guideline 2.1 Keyboard Accessible: Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
Guideline 2.2 Enough Time: Provide users enough time to read and use content.
Guideline 2.3 Seizures: Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
Guideline 2.4 Navigable: Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
“Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.”
This part gives guidelines to ensure that web pages feature intuitive functionality and language.
Guideline 3.1 Readable: Make text content readable and understandable.
Guideline 3.2 Predictable: Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
Guideline 3.3 Input Assistance: Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
“Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.”
This category focuses on the website’s code, and the only guideline is to ensure that the website’s code is robust enough to help assistive readers understand that code.
Guideline 4.1 Compatible: Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.
ADA Compliance Tools List
The World Wide Web Consortium has compiled a list of tools to help check for website accessibility aspects.
Hopefully this information will help you identify what changes you need to make to your website for optimal user experiences and ADA compliance. If you have determined that you need to update your website and you're not sure how to do that, or you simply don't want to deal with the headache, HIVE Digital Strategy is here to help and has experience with a wide variety of website content management systems.
When it comes to website design we highly recommend investing in Growth Driven Design (GDD). Not only is it built to scale, but it allows you to make updates on the fly, which really comes in handy if you find yourself in hot water with the ADA. Contact HIVE for more information about updating your website for ADA compliance and Growth Driven Design.